Jon Cooper | The Good Word
This week, "The Good Word" features five Georgia Tech student-athletes that will be among those that "Get Out" on Saturday when the Institute holds its fall commencement ceremonies.
Finishing has always been important to Andrew Marshall.
That's something he didn't feel he accomplished as a senior in 2017.
The foot injury that he suffered the first day of practice in full pads, then re-injured, requiring season-ending surgery, kept him from playing a single down the entire season. Adding insult to injury, the Yellow Jackets finished 5-6 and missed out on a bowl game for only the second time in 21 years.
Those terms were simply unacceptable for his final memory of playing Georgia Tech football.
"I didn't want my career to end like that," said the Cumming, Ga., native, who has played in 33 career games, including nine starts in 2016, and was a projected starter as a senior in '17 until the early August foot injury. "It was supposed to be my 15th season playing and you just don't want to end it like that. I had the opportunity to come back and I figured, `Why not do it?' If I didn't, I would regret it my whole life."
There will be no such regrets.
Yes, Marshall has completed the academic requirements to earn his bachelor's degree and will receive his diploma on Saturday when he participates in fall commencement at McCamish Pavilion. But things are not over as far as his Georgia Tech career.
As an athlete, Marshall didn't have to leave The Flats since he still has a year of eligibility after redshirting in 2017. So he's not going to.
As a student, Marshall, a three-time member of the ACC Academic Honor Roll, who will earn his degree in business administration with a concentration in operations supply chain management in just three-and-a-half years, saw even greater opportunity.
"I realized that it would be hard for me to pass up such a great opportunity, academics-wise, to get a master's degree," he said. "Going into the real world, I figured I have my whole life to do that. I was excited about it once I came to that decision [to come stay at Georgia Tech and pursue graduate studies] and realized all the great opportunities, all the positives of it. So now I'm really excited to be coming back."
The decision also excited head coach Paul Johnson.
"We are excited," Johnson said when he announced that Marshall would return during his weekly press conference on Oct. 31. "We talked last week and he decided that he wanted to come back and play. That is good news for everybody. I'm excited for him and I'm excited for us."
Marshall expressed his gratitude to Johnson for his unyielding support as he went through the difficult decision process.
"I talked with my family. Then we sat down [with Johnson] and he said, `I'll support you in whatever you choose. If you want to move on and start your career, that's great. If not and you want to come back and play, that's great, too,'" Marshall recalled. "I informed him that I thought the best thing for my life was to come back and play one more year and work on getting a master's from Georgia Tech. He was pretty thrilled and said he was glad to have me back. Just rehab my foot and get ready to go again."
Marshall could have gone the other way and dived headlong into the real world. He even had a full-time job offer from WestRock Co., in Dunwoody.
But the pull to handle unfinished business on The Flats was too strong.
"It was a great opportunity and I told the people at WestRock when they offered me the job that I was thrilled about it," he said. "It was hard for me to turn that down but, in a way, I wasn't really turning it down. I was postponing everything to come back and get a master's. Once I told them my whole plan they were very supportive and said, 'Well, would you want to be an intern this summer?' I went ahead and took that. I'm excited to work with them this summer and learn a ton and we'll see where it goes from there.
"It's nice to go into 2018 already knowing what I'm going to be doing," he added. "I know I'll be in class for the spring and fall and then the internship in the summer ... Everything's kind of lined up and ready for me to go to have a good year and rehab this foot and come back."
The comeback on the field ideally will make for a nice entrance into 2019 -- with Georgia Tech returning to a bowl game.
Marshall believes he can contribute on the field and in the locker room as one of many upperclass leaders on the O-line. With Marshall joining fellow seniors Will Bryan and Jake Stickler and juniors Parker Braun, Kenny Cooper, Bailey Ivemeyer and Jahaziel Lee back in the trenches, the Yellow Jackets' offensive front will boast a combined 85 games of starting experience going into next season.
"I think we'll have a good class of linemen as well as a good team," he said. "We'll have two fifth-year seniors now, with me, Jake Stickler and Cheyenne Hunt. Will Bryan will also be a senior. We'll have four seniors total in the O-line room, so that will be good. Between me, Stickler and Will we have some good playing experience. I think it's going to be a lot of fun. I hope to contribute and be a leader and do all I can to help us win some games."
Marshall believes he can offer a lot more than just the experience in handling the blocking schemes of the spread option. He offers perspective in handling the gamut of emotions that come with an ACC football season and experiences, both good and bad.
"I've definitely had my fair share of adversity, I've had a lot of ups and downs," he said. "My first year was great -- I got to play as a freshman and win the Orange Bowl, and do all those things. Then some lows and some injuries. I hope to use those experiences to make me a better player and even more important, a better person. Then I hope I can spread some of those values and some of those lessons that I've learned to [other] players so they don't have to endure the same things and the same types of experiences. [I hope] that they can take the things I learned from so they can be better players and better people. Whatever I can contribute."
But first things first: graduation on Saturday.
"I'm very excited," said Marshall, who took his last final exam on Monday. "You come in and in the beginning you think three-and-a-half, four years will take forever [but] before you realize, it's here. You just put your head down and work every day and before you realize, it's `I'm about to be done and graduate.' So I'm excited. My family will come and they'll be there as I walk across the stage. I know my aunts and uncles in Alabama will be watching [online]. They'll be proud, too.
"It's a lot of work, for sure, at Georgia Tech. But it's been a good ride," he added. "[Assistant A.D. for student services] Chris Breen and the academic staff did a great job setting up a plan. When I played as a true freshman and didn't redshirt, our plan was for me to graduate in three-and-a-half years, when I was done playing, which would have been this fall. So that was the plan originally. I even fit in an internship this past summer. So they did a great job of laying out my plan and I did all my classes and got everything done, got the internship and everything was lined up. So I'm going to go ahead and graduate. Unfortunately, I didn't play this year but I'll do that again one more time."